(The Center Square) – A good–government group says a major flaw in Illinois campaign finance law allows one individual to wield immense political power and more needs to be done to address the culture of corruption.
Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was indicted Wednesday by federal prosecutors on 22 charges, ranging from racketeering to bribery. He maintains his innocence.
For years, and after several other elected officials were charged with corruption, some statehouse leaders have said there are already laws on the books to hold bad actors accountable.
Most recently, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said Madigan is “accused of things that were already illegal.”
“Those are all things that are just criminal acts,” Cassidy told The Center Square. ”The ethics laws would not have changed those things.”
Cassidy said there’s still a lot of work to do to bring about better ethics in state government.
Reform For Illinois Executive Director Alisa Kaplan said elected officials should be held to a higher standard.
“The Legislature should be able to make people accountable for behavior that’s not necessarily criminal, in this case, it turns out that it was, but still perhaps a breach of the public trust,” Kaplan told The Center Square.
She said there are a lot of weaknesses in Illinois ethics laws.
“Say, in our campaign finance laws and in our ethics laws that allow for opportunities to arise for corruption,” Kaplan said.
Madigan’s nexus of power as both speaker of the House and the chair of several political funds was an element of a nearly decade-long corruption allegation leveled by federal prosecutors.
That system that allowed that still exists.
“Speaker Chris Welch and Senate President Don Harmon are raking in millions and millions of dollars, using loopholes to get around contribution limits and distribute that money around,” Kaplan said.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate also control campaign funds that can be used for their members’ elections. That was not addressed in recently enacted ethics legislation.
Kaplan said one tool that does exist Republicans attempted to use in the fall of 2020 to hold Madigan accountable was the House Special Investigating Committee. Republicans filed for the creation of that committee after Madigan was listed as “Public Official A” in the ComEd bribery prosecution agreement in the summer of 2020.
Democrats on the committee, including Emanuel “Chris” Welch, voted to end the committee in December 2020 without any findings.
Welch, now speaker, said Wednesday he felt it was important to leave the investigation to law enforcement.
“As Chair of the Special Investigating Committee, I made it clear that this matter needed to be handled in a court of law, completely separate from the legislature,” said Welch, D-Hillside. “As is evident by this federal indictment, the full weight of the justice system was needed to ensure all charges are investigated properly and thoroughly.”
Kaplan said that was a missed opportunity.
“I think it would have sent an important signal for the legislative committee to really sink their teeth into this,” Kaplan said.
The committee did produce emails showing a Madigan ally lining up jobs for “our friend” with a utility that would be impacted by state legislation.
Kaplan said there are real-world consequences to corruption.
“It can discourage investment, create more inequality,” Kaplan said. “It really affects people’s lives in Illinois.”
Madigan is to be arraigned in federal court March 9. Both chambers of the Illinois Legislature return Tuesday.